For the first time I used a Beta Reader.
I’ve tried to before on another project but the person I wanted wasn’t interested as the main character was not gay. He reasoned that he’d spent a lifetime reading mainstream novels, and that now with the explosion of queer writing, he wanted to indulge in stories he could totally relate to.
But back to the Beta Reader that gave me feedback this morning. She is an M/M Romance Writer and offered to read the second draft of my current w.i.p. She is also English.
The first thing she pointed out was that a lot of readers would not like that adultery was part of the plot. In the story, this is one of the elements that provides dramatic conflict at various points in the manuscript. So I found this statement odd. The book is for mature readers. It’s not a Young Adult novel or a story for pre-school kids. Why would I censor something that we see on screen, hear in songs and know from real life?
On American book sites I’ve often seen ‘Cheating’ or ‘Infidelity’ marked as a ‘Warning’ for readers. For many of us elsewhere in the world, this is frankly, over the top. There are many reasons to warn people of content such as violence, incest or non-consensual sex. But consensual sex between two adults is not a reason to pop a warning on a book.
I’m not condoning cheating, but it’s been in popular culture for as long as I can remember. One of the 1980’s biggest chart topping hits was Do Re Mi’s ‘Adultery’. We all sang along to this beautiful love song.
As a teenager I loved the comedy series Soap. Straight off the bat we knew Chester regularly cheated on his wife, Jessica. Later on, Jessica falls into the arms of her younger tennis coach. And much later on, this couple confront their marital issues and stop playing around.
So how did we get to a point where we’re protecting each other as if we’re children?
The irony of this is that my Beta Reader came up with other ways to relish the story, while still keeping the cheating element in. This is a tale of a once happy relationship that went stale, and how the couple find a way to put it back on track.
And as writers we know that if we don’t keep the dramatic stakes high, there’s no reason for a reader to continue to the next chapter.